For U.S. soldiers fighting insurgents just south of Baghdad, Thursday's news from the Pentagon was sobering.
According to the United States' commanding general in Iraq, Iran has joined the war. Gen. George Casey said Iranians are planting roadside bombs that are killing U.S. soldiers, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan.
"We are quite confident that the Iranians through their covert special ops forces are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq," Casey said at a Pentagon press conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by his side.
Casey went so far as to accuse the Iranian government of helping mastermind the attacks.
"Now you would assume they're not doing that independently, that there is some central direction from somebody in Tehran," Casey said.
Iraq's National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie said regardless of who is backing the insurgency, Iraq has to be able to stand on its own, Cowan reports.
"We need to avoid what I call dependency syndrome. We need to wean ourselves off this dependency," al-Rubaie says.
Rumsfeld said Casey had not yet had sufficient time to consult with the new Iraqi government, but that in any case the size of the U.S. force is likely to rise and fall in coming months, depending on political and security conditions.
"It will very likely not be a steady path down," Rumsfeld said. "It could very likely be a drawdown with an increase." Noting that there now are 126,900 U.S. troops in Iraq, he said: "It could very well go back up at some point. It very likely will go down and up and down and up depending on the circumstances and depending on the need."
Casey, who said more than once last year that he expected to see "fairly substantial" U.S. troop reductions during spring and summer of 2006, noted that the force has dropped from about 138,000 in March to 126,900 now.
"Whether that's 'fairly substantial' enough, I'll leave to your judgment," he said. "As I said, I think there will be continued gradual reductions here as the Iraqis take on a larger and larger role."
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Gen. Casey also said that members of the Sunni insurgency have been reaching out to the new Iraqi government, giving U.S. military commanders opportunities to forge communications with the resistance groups.
Casey said the U.S. military and the Iraqi government "have several different strands of contacts going on, and there are opportunities in that regard we just haven't had before." He did not elaborate. He also said the insurgency has grown more complex in recent months, and he complained that it has been assisted by Iranian special operations forces who provide bomb materials, weapons and training to Shiite extremists in southern Iraq.
"They are using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq both against us and against the Iraqi people," Casey said. "It's decidedly unhelpful." He added there has been a "noticeable increase" in the problem since January, but he could not quantify it.
Casey also said Iran has become the main source of materials to make makeshift roadside bombs that regularly kill U.S. troops as well as Iraqis. "Those primarily come from Iran," he said. "We're seeing attacks and we're finding more of them. So it's coming in from, we believe, Iran."